Audrey never returned Kira’s calls nor responded to her text messages, and Kira was beginning to worry. It was out of character and something felt very wrong about the entire situation. At 7:00am, after trying her cell phone and home phone again, Kira decided to drive to Audrey’s house and confront her in person. She intended to demand an explanation as to why Audrey was so angry about her quitting The Candy Shop, and to guilt her into an apology for ignoring her calls. After all, surely even Audrey could understand that Kira was a married woman and had no desire to cheat on Frank.
Backing her white Lexus out of the garage, she noticed immediately that a large, green trashcan was sitting on the street, just to the right of the driveway. Today was Monday and trash pick-up was every Friday. As of last night her trashcan had been inside of the garage because she remembered placing the kitchen trash bag into the garage container shortly before going to bed. Fear rushed over Kira as she stared at the empty corner of the garage where the trashcan normally sat. This meant that someone had come into her garage while she was sleeping and had taken her trashcan to the street. The question was, why?
Kira left the car running while she stepped out and hesitantly approached the trashcan. Neighborhood covenants forbid having trash receptacles cluttering the street except on the day of pick-up, so regardless of why it was outside and who placed it there, Kira needed to put it back in the garage. As she approached the trashcan, she immediately noticed that it was facing in the wrong direction. The black handle was toward the street instead of toward the driveway which would cause the lid to open away from the trash truck instead of toward it. Gripping the handle, Kira gave the can a tug, but it didn’t budge. She pulled harder, causing the bottom to scrape against the pavement, but it barely moved. Unable to remember throwing away anything that was heavy enough to render the trashcan immobile; Kira lifted the lid and peered inside.
Horrified by what she saw, she gasped and instinctively leapt backwards, releasing the lid and letting it slam against the back of the trashcan. Taking a second to muster the courage to take another look, she slowly stepped forward. The trashcan was filled with cement blocks and a note was fastened to the top block with duct tape. Taped to the note was a severed finger. Fighting her gag reflex, Kira dug her cell phone from her jacket pocket and took a picture of the contents of the can. She dialed 9-1-1 and then carefully balanced on her tippy toes so she could read what was written on the note: ONE OVER MONEY. TWO QUIT THE SHOW. THREE WANTED MORE. FOUR, A THORNED ROSE. THE FIFTH IS REVENGE SERVED HOT AND RED. YOU CONTROL IF SHE ENDS UP DEAD.
Kira felt as if she might vomit and faint simultaneously. She rocked backwards, wedging the heel of her shoe into a sidewalk crack and stumbling onto the grass.
“Mrs. Sullivan, are you okay?” Carter’s voice came from two driveways down. He was ten years old with blonde hair and bright blue eyes, and he spent almost every morning out on his driveway, trying to master his free throw shot. It was an extra-challenge because his driveway sloped, forcing Carter to throw the basketball a little harder and higher to get it through the hoop. Carter rushed toward Kira, his basketball clutched tightly in his grasp. “I saw you fall over.” He tossed the basketball onto the grass and extended both arms toward her. Taking his hands, Kira leaned forward and let Carter pull her to her feet.
“I’m okay,” she said, forcing a smile and nonchalantly closing the lid to the trashcan. After all, a bloody severed finger was nothing a ten year old boy should see. “My heel got caught in the sidewalk crack and I fell over. Thanks for the help up.”
Carter leaned down and retrieved his ball. “You scared me. I thought you passed out.”
“Nope, just clumsy.” Kira said.
Dribbling his basketball back up the sidewalk, he stopped abruptly and turned to face Kira. “Are you leaving town or something?”
Kira shook her head to indicate she wasn’t.
“Oh,” Carter shrugged. “I just wondered why Mr. Sullivan had put your trash out early. You know trash day isn’t until Friday. I know because it’s my job to wheel our trash out to the street every Friday morning. I get paid a whole two bucks to do it.” He smiled and then dribbled back to his drive way and shot at the hoop, banking it off the backboard and sending it rebounding into his yard.
While waiting for the police to arrive, Kira pulled her Lexus back into the garage and sat in the driver’s seat with the door propped open. She had no idea what she was going to tell the police. Should she mention The Candy Shop and Landon’s threats? Her hands were trembling as she text Frank: CALL ASAP. Then she dialed Michael and Mallory to make sure they were both still okay.
It wasn’t long before two police cars pulled onto the street and parked in front of the Sullivan home. Upon seeing them, Kira immediately leapt from her seat and raced down the driveway. An African-American officer named Reginald Peters stepped out of his car first and headed up the driveway in long, leggy strides, while Lieutenant Barkley maneuvered himself slowly from his vehicle. Extending his hand toward Kira, Officer Peters introduced himself and Kira felt instantly at ease. She guessed him to be in his mid-twenties, just a few years older than Michael and Mallory, and his smile radiated the enthusiasm and excitement of youth. He stood six feet tall, had dark hair which was cut so short he was almost bald in appearance and light brown eyes that sparkled when he grinned. Lieutenant Barkley sauntered up, seemingly winded from the short walk, and gave Kira a nod.
“What do we got?” Barkley grunted.
Kira explained how the trashcan was mysteriously removed from her garage and placed in the street and then led them to it. This time she stood back while Peters opened the lid and they peered inside. Barkley read the note aloud in a gruff tone: ONE OVER MONEY. TWO QUIT THE SHOW. THREE WANTED MORE. FOUR, A THORNED ROSE. THE FIFTH IS REVENGE SERVED HOT AND RED. YOU CONTROL IF SHE ENDS UP DEAD.
Barkley and Peters exchanged a glance. “Better call Rocco,” Barkley rasped and Peters immediately returned to his car to make the call. Turning to Kira, Barkley asked, “Do you have any idea what this note means?”
Prickly tentacles of fear climbed up the back of Kira’s neck as she shook her head. “I have no idea.” As the lie left her lips, it felt as if Barkley’s eyes were piercing right through her.
“What does it mean YOU CONTROL IF SHE ENDS UP DEAD?” Barkley questioned.
Kira’s mind was a chaotic whirlwind of thought. She couldn’t escape the feeling that FOUR, A THORNED ROSE was somehow referring to Miranda from The Candy Shop, since her flower name was Rose and Lucas had stated it was because she had thorns; but she couldn’t mention The Candy Shop to Lieutenant Barkley. That would mean admitting she and Audrey worked there and that was something she didn’t want Frank to know. Despite the fact that she hadn’t been unfaithful, Frank would consider dancing in a gentlemen’s club a breach of trust and their marriage would be over. She couldn’t let that happen. “I don’t know,” Kira said, her mouth growing dry as the lie stuck in her throat.
“Mrs. Sullivan, are you aware that four women have been murdered in the past month, and been left in dumpsters throughout the city?” Barkley’s tone was laced with accusation.
Was she aware? Of course she was aware. It had been the lead story in the paper and on the news for weeks, though oddly enough the identities of the victims had not been publically released to the media. It had every woman in the city walking on eggshells. “You don’t think I had anything to do with that…” Kira’s voice faded as a brutal reality hit her. What if all four women were somehow connected to The Candy Shop? Was the note implying that if she didn’t return to The Candy Shop, a fifth woman would be killed? If this were true then she needed to warn Audrey. She could be in danger.
All color drained from Kira’s face and her heart began to race.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” Barkley grunted.
Kira licked her lips slowly and met eyes with Barkley. “Is there any connection between the four women who were killed?” Barkley squinted at her, as if he thought this were an odd question. “I mean,” Kira cleared her throat, “did they all work together or attend the same church or school?”
“That’s classified information,” Barkley snorted.
Peters rushed back up the driveway. “Rocco said we’re to get a forensics team out here on the double and that we should take Mrs. Sullivan into custody.”
Barkley rolled his eyes. “Of course he did, because Mr. Hot Shot has no problem wasting the tax payer’s money and our time on a forensics analysis that’s not going to show diddly-squat.”
“Excuse me?” Kira interjected. “What do you mean take me into custody?”
“With all due respect ma’am,” Peters said, “a crucial piece of evidence was found on your property and we’d like to ask you some questions down at the station.”
She could tell Peters was trying to be as polite and diplomatic as possible, but she also knew the underlying meaning of what he had said. Being married to a high-powered attorney for almost twenty years had taught her a thing or two. Kira tightened her lip. “And if I refuse to come to the station with you?”
“Then we’ll place you under arrest for tampering with evidence or suspicion of murder,” Barkley interjected forcefully. “A body part was found in your trash. For all we know, you have the rest of the body stashed in your basement or your freezer and you wrote the note and taped the finger to it…”
“You must be out of your mind!” Kira spat. “Why would I do that and then call the police?”
“You’d be surprised what people do ma’am,” Peters said.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Barkley added. “Your choice.”